12 things you should never say to a writer

By Caitlin Kelly

I know that many Broadside readers work in education — have you seen The 12 Things You Should Never Say to Teachers?

Here are 12 things you should never say to a writer:


How much money do you make?

I get it — you want to be a published writer, too — and are naturally curious about the rewards. But  most book advances are now paid out over as long as four years — minus 15 percent to our agent — and the average book advance is pitifully small to start with, far less than $50,000. Do the math, and weep.

And because journalism pays so badly you just can’t believe anyone would actually work for those wages. But we do.

There is also so little direct correlation between work we may value intellectually — and what the market rewards most handsomely. (See: the best-seller list.)

Wow, that’s not very much, is it?

See above. While a few fortunates are pulling in mega-bucks, the highest-paid print journalists usually earn less than a fresh graduate working for a major corporate law firm. Sad but true.

malled cover HIGH

Are your books best-sellers?

Long bitter laugh. Only a minute percentage of books, on any subject, will ever hit the best-seller list.

Can you introduce me to your agent?

No. Maybe. Probably not. The agent-author relationship is intimate and fraught with multiple perils. It’s also a question of chemistry — the person who’s a great fit for me may be a lousy choice for you.

I’ve never heard of you

Here’s a sad little essay by Roger Rosenblatt on how un-famous he feels, even after publishing a few books. (You’re thinking: Who’s that guy?) The only way to survive the publishing world is to assume that your book(s), even after all your years of hard work and promotion, will largely be ignored by the public and bookstore buyers. Anything beyond that is gravy.

Will you read my manuscript?

What’s your budget? Assuming we want to read your work, unpaid, is naive.

This is what we do.
This is what we do.

Can I see the article you’re writing before it’s published?

Nope. Journalists get asked this all the time and the only correct answer is “No.” If you’re in doubt about the accuracy of a quote or some data, call your source(s) back. But allowing someone to review your copy opens the door to their desire to rewrite it to their tastes.

If I don’t like what you’ve written, I can ask you to remove my quotes, right?

See: on the record.

When I stop (doing whatever you do professionally), I’m going to take up writing

Awesome. Now go away! No, further.

Nothing is more irritating (OK, deadbeat publishers are more irritating) than having people treat our profession as an amusing hobby, something you can pick up and put down at leisure, like macrame or scrapbooking. It looks soooooooooo easy, right?


Writing well is bloody hard work. It’s not something you just “pick up.”

Journalism is a dying industry.

Indeed. Imagine how I feel after 30 years in it…


I hate journalists! They never get anything right

Same with doctors, lawyers, teachers…fill in the blank.  It’s a big industry with some bad apples and some good ones. Don’t assume I’m unethical or inaccurate just because you’ve been burned by someone else.

You can’t make a living as a writer!

Define “living.” Your assumptions or prejudices may be inaccurate. Or your idea of “a living” means $300,000 a year before bonus. In which case, you’re right!

Coming to New York City? 10 tips

By Caitlin Kelly

You’ve seen it in movies and on television and maybe read about it for years. Before you head into Manhattan (or Brooklyn, probably the only two of the five boroughs that make up NYC you’ll visit), a few tips. I’ve lived here for 25 years and you can spot the tourists a mile off…


Dress the part!

You can always tell the out-of-towners — the teen girls and women have…unusual…hair color, wear heavy  make-up, nude hose, pastels, bright colors and sequins. They have French manicures and pedicures, or chipped nail polish. All of which mark them immediately as someone not from here. A fresh manicure (nude polish on hands) and pedicure are key. New York women are well-groomed!

Like Paris, New York has its own visual style, and understated elegance is a good option, for men and women. Yes, we all wear black, all year round. It’s easy to accessorize and moves easily, if it’s the right clothing and style, from day to evening, usually with a change of shoes. (Bring ballet slippers or flats for comfortable/stylish walking — we walk everywhere. Men might consider a stylish suede or leather lace-up.)

Also not very city-friendly: bulging, enormous backpacks (everything here is small and crowded); chunky white or black sneakers; ripped or super-baggy (or super-tight) jeans; farmer or baseball caps, especially worn backward, logos all over everything, fanny packs.

Get to/out on the water

It’s too easy to forget that Manhattan is an island, and some of the loveliest sights are found on its edges — the bike and walking paths along the East River and the Hudson. The Circle Line takes hours, but the round-the-island boat tour will give you a terrific appreciation of the city, as will the (much cheaper!) Staten Island ferry, which commuters ride to and from their homes on SI. (Rent the classic movie Working Girl, with Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, to understand the importance of the ferry.)

Get onto the water at sunset to watch the city lights come up — and the Statue of Liberty at sunset. You can also rent kayaks and sailboats here.

Walk faster. No, even faster!

No kidding. Nothing is more maddening  and selfish than huge packs of tourists walking abreast — i.e. completely blocking a subway stair or sidewalk — sloooooooooowly.

Move it, folks!

The people who work here have places to go and no time to get there.

Enjoy a drink at one of the city’s vintage bars

Fanelli’s, Old Town Bar, Sardi’s, McSorley’s, The White Horse Tavern, The Landmark. Manhattan offers some fantastically old, weathered taverns with deep wooden booths, pressed tin ceilings and decades, even centuries of history. Settle in and enjoy.

(If you want to go seriously upscale — and dress well! — splurge on a cocktail or two at The Campbell Apartment, the King Cole Room at the St. Regis or Bemelman’s.) Yes, cocktails can cost $12, $14 or more. It’s New York, kids.

Keep your Metrocard filled

Taking the subway or bus is often a lot quicker and cheaper than trying to find a cab and getting stuck in traffic. Keep your card topped up. When you get on the bus, dip your card quickly in and out of the fare box. Then move to the rear!

Ride the bus

There’s no better way to really see the city. Skip the tourist buses and spend a few hours riding the M104 (Broadway) or the M5 (Fifth Avenue.) Comfortable, safe, cheap.


You will not find a cab at 4:00 p.m.

That’s when all the drivers change shifts and all those cars are going to whiz right past you, no matter how much you flap your arm. We know it. Take a bus, or subway or walk.

But…if you beg, nicely, you might still hitch a ride if someone is heading that direction.

If you take a cab, tip at least 15 percent

Or prepare to be brow-beaten.

Carry a small umbrella

Few things are more frustrating than getting caught in the rain and not finding a cab to rescue you. Be prepared.

Eat at Shake Shack

Forget the calories and the lines. Just do it. So damn good!

The (latest) book I just couldn’t finish…

By Caitlin Kelly




The fines alone for keeping this book out of library too long — I could have bought it.

And, too ironic, the title: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

It’s not even a very long book. I tried!

I just didn’t care about any of the characters. I didn’t find the plot, such as it was, compelling. Nor was the writing especially beautiful.

And it won the 2011 Booker Prize. Oh, well.

I just saw a friend’s post saying she couldn’t finish Donna Tartt’s latest, The Goldfinch.

I’ve tried several times to penetrate Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett and gave up.

Yet I am still slowly reading, and enjoying, Atonement by Ian McEwan, one of my favorite writers and recently (somewhat) enjoyed The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.

I put off for years reading The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, but couldn’t put it down and loved it.

What book(s) have you simply given up on halfway through — and why?

How to be the guest they want to invite again…

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s the season of invitations — to a summer share, a beach house, a cottage. Maybe you’re finally meeting the parents.

While it’s lovely to be invited into someone’s home, it’s also a potential minefield of hurt feelings and unexpressed emotion. We’ve stayed with friends many times, most of whom live in fairly tight quarters, so being considerate and tidy really make a difference.

“You’re so low maintenance!” said one grateful hostess. We try!

A few ways to leave a good-to-great impression on your hosts:


When they ask about your dietary preferences, remember  — it’s not a full-service restaurant

Some people have genuine allergies that are life-threatening and others simply have a realllllly long list of their very strong preferences. If you absolutely must have a specific food or drink, bring it with you. It’s rude to impose your individual will on a larger group of people gathered for a good time; when we stayed with friends who served steak for dinner, but invited a vegetarian friend, he happily joined us and ate only vegetables.

Be a good sport. It’s their home!

One of our hosts insisted we wear slippers (or bare feet) to keep the floors clean. No biggie, as they had a huge basket of nice clean slippers by the door. Everyone has their quirks and habits.

Sex? Keep it fully private and really quiet

No, I’m not a prude. Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.

If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and you

Just because you adore them and find their 300-decibel shrieking/barking normal/charming doesn’t mean it is. People who have chosen to “get away” are hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off.

Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host

Ditto for taking them out for a few very good meals. Even if one dinner costs you $150, that’s less than a decent hotel room in many spots at high season.

Bring a gift

Never arrive empty-handed. A great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic you know your hosts will enjoy. On our most recent visit we offered a set of gorgeous Laguiole steak knives; the ones we brought were different colors than these ones, but very welcomed. The one before that we gave our hosts a small handmade pottery serving dish.


Detach from, or put away, your electronics

While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach. Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!

Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week

Sure, you can email and people probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.

No one writes thank-you notes anymore?

Polite people who want to be invited back do.

Help out wherever you can

Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. They’ll probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.

Avoid all public grooming

I once stayed with a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife  — while both of them flossed their teeth. To me, a more private person, it was just gross. You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door. No one wants to see or hear the evidence of your later stunning public appearance.

Bring your own beauty, health and grooming supplies

If the place you’re visiting is miles from the nearest store, and you must have some essential item, be sure to buy it and bring it with you. No one wants to ruin their host’s plans with last-minute dashes for basics. Yes, they might have it, but —  (tampons, diapers, nursing pads, Neosporin, etc.) — they might not.

Tidy up!

No matter how welcome and relaxed you feel, pick up after yourself — coffee cups, dishes, newspapers, towels, sand-filled sneakers, wet bathing suits…

Bring a small flashlight

Perfect for midnight runs to the kitchen or toilet or while navigating unfamiliar stairs or paths. Our trusty headlamp has proven so handy so many times!

Avoid arguments — with your spouse/partner and your host(s)

Seems obvious. Some couples bicker as easily and normally as they breathe which can make less contentious people uncomfortable. Nor is a shared dinner table the best place to argue your views on gun control or other sensitive matters. Relaxation is the order of business, not sharing your deeply felt and hotly argued views on economic policy.

Do you enjoy being a guest?

What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?

10 ways to rock your first job/internship

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s graduation season, and time — for the fortunate — to step into their first full-time staff jobs, whether a permanent position or a summer internship.

If you’ve snagged a paid spot (or, likely, an unpaid one), congrats! Time to rock it!

As someone who has hired and managed less-experienced researchers and assistants, and has watched some newsroom interns succeed — or fail — a few hints:



Listen carefully

No, really.

Put down your phone, look people in the eye and give them your undivided attention. Old folks — anyone over 30 — expect you to look at them while they’re speaking to you, not IM or text. Especially if you’re working in any sort of customer-facing work like PR, retail, hospitality or food service — where high quality customer service is expected — this is crucial.

Your ability to soak up information quickly and accurately will make or break you. You may also have to convey key information to other people and need to be sure you’ve got everything right. You may well need to remind your boss of meetings, travel appointments or other tasks. They’re offloading onto you and counting on you to be helpful.

Take notes

Use whatever method is easiest and most reliable, whether a pen and paper, Ipad or verbal dictation. Double-check the spelling of even the simplest names and figures: Jon Smythe, for example. Never assume you automatically know the right answer; even if you do, check to be sure.

Ask lots of questions

Don’t be annoying and sleeve-tugging, but learn what is expected of you, whether hourly, daily, or weekly. If you’ve been asked to prepare a conference room for a meeting, go there ahead of time and make sure everything your boss(es) and co-workers will need is in there, and if not, get it!

Get to know all support and administrative staff and be kind and respectful to them. They hold a lot of power.

Also, find out how your boss and coworkers prefer to communicate — whether face to face, texts, email, phone or Skype. Just because you and your friends prefer texting does not mean those paying you do as well.

Memorize the phrase: “No problem!”

And mean it. After you’ve gotten your responsibilities clear, and you know who to ask or call for help in an emergency, it’s up to you to figure stuff out for yourself. It’s called being resourceful. Your value to your organization is not simply doing the job they hired you into, but to notice and anticipate other issues you might be able to help solve.

Are you including pleasure in your daily life?
Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

Take care of yourself: eat right, sleep 8 hours a night, limit alcohol intake

Don’t underestimate the stress — (and excitement!) — of a full-time job pleasing many new and demanding strangers. They’re not your Mom or coach or professors and (sorry!) many just don’t really care if you’re happy or having fun or even if you succeed. So it’s up to you to take the best care of your body and soul as possible, especially in an economy with few great jobs and little to no room for error, sloppiness, oversights or slip-ups.

Being well-rested and properly nourished will help you stay on top of your game; (i.e. do not arrive at work, ever, hungover. Nor share those details if you do.)

And no draaaaaaaama. Ever. No public tears or tantrums. (That includes stairwells, elevators and bathrooms. The walls have ears and you never know who’s listening.)

Check in with your boss(es)

If something they have asked you to do is heading south, let them know as soon as possible so there are no ugly last-minute surprises they can’t fix.

Don’t constantly ask co-workers or bosses for “feedback” or praise

Seriously! No matter how badly you crave approval or are used to being told — “Thanks! Great job!” — don’t hold your breath waiting for this at work. And don’t freak out if you never hear it there, no matter how much extra effort you put in. We’re all running 100,000 miles per hour these days and anyone who even has a job, let alone a senior position of any authority, is already plenty stressed and tired.

They are in no mood to coddle you as well.

Don’t take shit personally — unless it’s aimed at you specifically

If someone rips your head off, don’t take it personally. They might be a bitch to everyone all the time, or their dog just died or their husband is having an affair or they just got a lousy diagnosis. Get a feel for office politics and culture so you know when someone is really just like that, or when you really are screwing up and deserved to get your head sliced off, GOT-style.

It's not personal! Armor up, kids!
It’s not personal! Armor up, kids!

Do everything to 187 percent of your ability. Everything!

That means getting coffee, running to Staples, booking your boss’s flight, whatever your boss needs. People who run their own business, especially, rely on helpful, cheerful team players — no one is “too important” to do the smallest of tasks, no matter how silly or tedious or un-sexy they appear to be. People really value workers who consistently offer them good cheer, high energy and empathy.


Your primary job is to make everyone else’s job easier

Don’t focus on your job title or description, if you even have one. Never say out loud, or post anywhere on social media: “That’s not my job!” If your boss says it’s your job, guess what…

Your most valuable skill, certainly as someone new to the workforce building your skills and your networks for the future, is being sensitive to others’ needs and making their lives easier, while accomplishing your own tasks on or ahead of schedule. No one, even at the opera, wants to work with a diva.

Good luck!


But what if they don’t “like” it?


From The New York Times about our addiction to being “liked” on social media:

Walking through an airport newsstand this year, I noticed a novelty. The covers of Inc., Fast Company and Time all had female executives on the covers: Sara Blakely, Angela Ahrendts and Janet L. Yellen. I quickly snapped a photo and sent out a tweet to my modest list of followers: “Women on the cover. Not just for girlie magazines anymore.”

Then I waited for the love. I checked the response before passing through security. Nothing. I glanced again while waiting for the plane. Still nothing. I looked again before we took off. Nobody cared. My little attempt to pass a lonely hour in an airport with some friendly interaction had turned into the opposite: a brutal cold shower of social isolation.

A few days later, I mentioned this story to my wife. “What a great tweet!” she said. She then retweeted it to her larger list of followers. Within seconds, it scored. Some Twitter bigwigs picked it up, and soon hundreds of people had passed it along, added their approval and otherwise joined in a virtual bra burning. Though I should be above such things, my wisp of loneliness was soon replaced with a gust of self-satisfaction. Look, I started a meme!

We are deep enough into the social-media era to begin to recognize certain patterns among its users. Foremost among them is a mass anxiety of approval seeking and popularity tracking that seems far more suited to a high school prom than a high-functioning society.

It’s interesting where this stuff ends up — one talented young photographer, a friend of ours working in Chicago (who has not even finished college) — was recently offered a full-time staff job by a major newspaper after editors kept seeing his excellent work on Instagram.

Here is his astonishing collection of photos of a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans in a recent New York Times travel section. Go, Alex!

Do you care if people “like” your posts on Instagram or Reddit or Facebook or Pinterest?

Do you get re-tweeted?

Or does “real life” still matter more (or as much) as approval on social media?


By Caitlin Kelly


In the interest of pure silliness, for those of you yet to meet them, here are the Moomins, a series of nine books by Finnish author Tove Jansson, published between 1945 and 1993.

The stories revolve around a large family of Moomins — who look a little like hippopotamuses — and their quirky friends and companions.

If you fly Finnair to Japan, your plane’s livery may sport Moomins; even the President of Finland has been seen wearing a Moomin watch.

Japan recently opened a cafe where you can — of course! — share a table with a very large stuffed Moomin.

Here’s a recent story from the Financial Times, reviewing two biographies of their creator:

It was only when the third volume in the series, Finn Family Moomintroll, came out three years later in 1948 that the Moomins begin their ascent to international fame. By the 1960s Jansson’s creation was manifesting as TV cartoons, stage plays and a bewildering range of licensed merchandise. There were picture books and also a widely syndicated newspaper strip, which Jansson wrote and drew herself before handing over responsibility to her younger brother Lars.

The Moomins remain big business. All the books are in print and sell healthily. The Finnish city of Turku boasts a theme park, Moomin World, where you can visit the characters’ houses and have your photograph taken with actors in costume. There is even a shop in London’s Covent Garden peddling nothing but what one might call “Moominery”.

The stories have also exerted an influence on many modern writers, for adults as well as children. Ali Smith, Jeanette Winterson and Maggie O’Farrell are self-professed Moomin fans. Philip Pullman has called Jansson a “genius”…

After I mentioned my Moomin-love to Jose, my husband bought me two Moomin books for Christmas, and this great mug, from which I drink my tea and coffee most days.

How can you feel gloomy with a Moomin in the house?

And guys — check it out! — there’s a 40 percent off sale this weekend at this site, with everything possible Moomin-related.

Do you (still) have a beloved children’s book or character in your life?

New York’s 9/11 Museum now open: will you visit?

By Caitlin Kelly



It has taken a long time — and $700 million in donations and tax dollars — but the museum commemorating the attack on New York City on September 9, 2001 opens to the public this month.

President Obama went to dedicate it today:

The president’s remarks highlighted a somber ceremony at the new institution marking the worst foreign attack on American soil, one that shocked the world and ushered in a new era of fear, war, determination and clashes of values while redefining America’s place in the world. Surrounded by the wreckage of that day, deep underneath the ground where two planes felled the twin towers, the president and the other guests vowed never to forget.

From CNN.com:

Objects big and small from the greatest terrorist attack on American soil now make up a museum dedicated to that tragedy and the 2,983 people who perished. It is one of America’s largest and most ambitious memorial museums, almost entirely subterranean and erected in the graveyard of Osama bin Laden’s victims.

Construction worker Frank Silecchia found a crossbeam in the rubble that resembled a cross. It became a key exhibit at the new museum.

A police officer found Genni Gambale’s red wallet on the roof of a Marriott hotel, a few blocks south of the Trade Center, days after the attacks. In the wallet were a scorched American Express Corporate card, a $115 coupon for Lenscrafters, a Brooklyn Public Library card, pennies, nickels, dimes.

Now under thick Plexiglass, the wallet tells of a life cut short. Gambale was one of many trapped on the upper floors after American Airlines Flight 11 plowed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. She was 27.

I asked a friend if he is going to visit, and his response was swift and furious.

“No! They’re charging $24. The monuments in Washington are free. I think it’s obscene to charge money for this.”

I agree.

(It is free to family members of 9/11 victims, and $18 for seniors.)

I doubt I’ll go, but for additional reasons beyond a very high ticket price. I try to avoid even driving past the site of the former World Trade Center; I find the area frightening, depressing and filled with terrible memories, both visual and olfactory.

For many weeks after the towers fell, you could smell them many long blocks north, like some evil, dark wraith twisting between the skyscrapers. It was oily, chemical, acrid — and unforgettable.

There was no escaping it.

If you were in or near lower Manhattan (or D.C.) the day of those attacks, you likely have no appetite at all to relive the terror, doubt, confusion, grief and sorrow we all experienced.

That morning, I was in Maryland on a journalism fellowship, while my husband Jose, (then a boyfriend about to move, that very day, into my suburban apartment), sat in Brooklyn with all his possessions packed into boxes.

Instead, he heard the distinctive roar of an F-15 fighter jet overhead, a sound he knows, and knew we were at war.

He helped The New York Times to win the Pulitzer Prize that year for photo editing of those awful images. This was no “it’s only a movie” moment.

Instead he ran into a local drugstore, handed off the rolls of film from Times’ photographers — ash-covered from the collapsed towers, traumatized, running as fast they could — to develop it as quickly as possible then transmitting it to the Times’ midtown newsroom from the computer in his otherwise-empty apartment.

I reported the DNA testing of remains story, and it ran in newspapers and magazines in New Zealand, Britain and France. I also interviewed a volunteer morgue worker for Glamour, a women’s magazine.

The details were impossibly grotesque and I cried a lot.

A friend of ours, Richard Drew,  took a photograph that defines the day. It is a terrible, terrible image: Falling Man. These are real events that touched people we know.

The museum includes video and audio of the event — plus intimate artifacts like wallets and ID cards of people who became body parts, some still not recovered.

I listened to some of those audio tapes when I was a reporter at the New York Daily News. Jesus. It was five years after the event, but it might have been yesterday.

No, I can’t hear that again.


So, I’m not going.

Would you?

Sharing space can be hell (or heaven)

20140118142056By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever lived — after leaving your family of origin — in shared housing?

I’ve spent the majority of my life in apartments, not a single-family house. I lived in houses, in London and Toronto, ages 2 to seven, then again from 15 to 19. That’s it.

Much as I’d love the privacy, space, outdoor space and autonomy of a house, the places I’ve chosen to live, chosen for my career in journalism and publishing. in those countries’ respective centers for same, Toronto and New York — also offer some of the world’s costliest real estate. (A good friend came by yesterday, who sells real estate in New York City, where a not-very-special apartment now runs $700,000+ while anything large or new or nice — $1 million and up.)

But a small, 1950s house in my town, 25 miles north of Manhattan, also costs about $500,00 to $700,000 plus $1,000 a month or more in property taxes. I bought a one-bedroom top-floor apartment in 1989 and am still here.

Until we retire, I don’t foresee owning a house. I’d rather sock that money away for retirement and travel and entertain than prop up some enormous mortgage or fear a roof repair or other five-figure disaster.

Our view of the Hudson River -- one reason we stay!
Our view of the Hudson River — one reason we stay!

So…shared housing space is my life.

But — having just had our annual co-op meeting this week — it also means facing the many competing wishes of the 92 other apartment owners here.

Our most recent investment was an $80,000 generator for the building, needed because we get so many storms that rip down tree limbs that cause power outages. In addition to losing heat and power before, that was also costly, as we had to several times camp out in a local hotel.

Luckily, we like the neighbors with whom we share a living room wall and our bedroom wall, as well as those on our floor.

I spent one frustrating year as a volunteer on our co-op board and that was plenty — as two elderly men on the board bullied the rest of us into silence and submission. It’s a very tough job trying to balance so many people’s needs and tastes.

Do you share space with (relative) strangers?

How’s it working out?

Here’s a chilling piece from Maclean’s — Canada’s national newsweekly — about what it’s really like to live in a condominium or co-operative building:

As thousands of homebuyers flock to condos for the promise of affordable home ownership and carefree living, they’re learning that life in a condominium is far different from the suburban houses where so many of us were raised.

Never mind that owning a condo usually means sharing your walls, floors and ceilings with your neighbours. Canadian condos are rife with internal politics, neighbour infighting and power struggles stemming from the complicated network of condo boards, owners, investors, tenants and property managers.

In some buildings, the rule book governing what owners can and can’t do with their property can span 70 pages. Disputes over issues such as pets, squeaky floors and visitor parking spots are escalating into epic and costly court battles. “They are little fiefdoms,” says Don Campbell, senior analyst with the Real Estate Investment Network, who owns several condos in B.C. “Each one has a king. Many of the people who get elected to the boards have time on their hands, and this is the only place in their world where they have power. Unfortunately, that starts to go to their heads.



It may be creative, but, hell yes, it’s still work!

By Caitlin Kelly

Time to let go, at last

Did any of you catch this recent interesting piece in The New York Times?

The way we habitually think and talk about these matters betrays a deep and venerable ambivalence. On one hand, art is imagined to exist in a realm of value that lies beyond and beneath mere economic considerations. The old phrase “starving artist” gestures toward an image that is both romantic and pathetic, of a person too pure, and also just too impractical, to make it in the world. When that person ceases to starve, he or she can always be labeled a sellout. You’re not supposed to be in it for the money.

On the other hand, money is now an important measure — maybe the supreme measure — of artistic accomplishment. Box office grosses have long since become part of the everyday language of cinephilia, as moviegoers absorb the conventional wisdom, once confined mainly to accountants and trade papers, about which movies are breaking out, breaking even or falling short. Multimillion-dollar sales of paintings by hot new or revered old artists are front-page news. To be a mainstream rapper is to have sold a lot of recordings on which you boast about how much money you have made selling your recordings…

This is something I think about a lot.

My father, still alive at 85, was a respected maker of films and network television, as was my stepmother. My mother worked as a journalist.

It never occurred to me that “artist” and “starving” belonged in the same sentence. Nor should they!

This notion that being creative means penury or 1%-land is absurd. We don’t expect or require this of others — the middling executive, the stalled lawyer, the so-so administrator. The world is filled with people doing their best and never hitting the heights, nor surviving on ramen in a group squat.

More, from the Times’ piece:

Inexpensive goods carry hidden costs, and those costs are frequently borne by exploited, underpaid workers. This is true of our clothes and our food, and it is no less true of those products we turn to for meaning, pleasure and diversion. We will no doubt continue to indulge all kinds of romantic conceits about artists: myths about the singularity of genius or the equal distribution of talent; clichés about flaky, privileged weirdos; inspiring tales of dreamers who persevered. But we also need to remember, with all the political consequences that this understanding entails, that they are just doing their jobs.

I’ve been writing for a living — sometimes for a nice wage, sometimes for a much-less-amusing one — since I left university. But I’ve never cracked that sexy glass ceiling of the six-figure income.

malled cover LOW

Talent and hard work, prizes and fellowships — got ’em. There are few direct correlations between the standard metrics and creative success, let alone buckets ‘o cash. Your ability to schmooze, to accept and perform work you find creatively grotesque, to suck up abusive client behaviors — these, too, factor considerably into who will (quickest) ascend the greasy pole of fame and fortune.

The creative life is one that many mythologize or fantasize about: waking up at noon to daub a canvas or noodle about with your screenplay. How lovely, how freeing to flee the grim confines of cube-world and the predations of The Man.


Every time I put on a pair of shoes, or eat a meal, I touch the direct reflection of talent and hard work — it produced the income that keeps me housed, fed, clothed and will fund my retirement.

Making art — of any kind — in no way excuses the artist from the costly necessities of life, no matter how cool or offbeat our lives and work may appear to others choosing a different vocational path.

One of my favorite books is The Creative Habit, by American choreographer Twyla Tharp, who has made her career by — as she eloquently puts it — walking into an empty studio and making a dance.

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that’s habit-forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Creative work absolutely is work, even if/when it doesn’t earn enough to buy you a house or a shiny new car — or any car, ever — or the plaudits of The Right People.

And holding fast to principle — creating something you imagine to be of lasting cultural worth, not merely sating contemporary appetites or shoveling cash at your expenses — remains a difficult challenge for many artists faced with the same costs of heat, fuel, clothing, food and housing as the rest of the workforce.

Jose and I recently saw this terrific 1987 play, The Substance of Fire, about a New York City family-run publishing house and its internal battle over this issue.


Here’s a post I wrote about this in 2011, which was chosen for Freshly Pressed.

I ask whether we should focus on being productive (look what I made!) or creative (which might be publicly inaudible and invisible for months or years, producing no income):

I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.

We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

Do you work full-time in a creative field?

How’s it going?

How do you measure your success?



Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview (what’s the one question you must ask?)

Crafting the Personal Essay

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

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